Anthony Trollope: The Writer’s Writer, Part 2

Last week I wrote that the Victorian writer Anthony Trollope is my writing mentor. He is the one who keeps my feet on the ground when it comes to writing and advice and writing fads.

This week I would like to continue exploring what today’s indie authors can learn from Anthony Trollope. Let’s look at a few more areas where he can teach us valuable lessons.

Gadgets

Lots of writers spend lots of money on all manner of gadgets and software to help them write. I think it is an age thing. Those who grew up with computers are more likely to be attracted to gadgets to help them write.

But gadgets do not make the writer.

Trollope wrote with a steel dip pen, ink, and paper. That’s it. No Scrivener. No Dragon. No Hemingway Editor. No classes to learn how to use Scrivener. And certainly no computer.

We don’t need gadgets to write well. We might think we do because we live in an age filled with gadgets. What we really need to write well, is to know how to tell a story. And sad to say, gadgets can’t help us with that.

There is plenty of evidence that shows writing by hand will produce a superior product. And Trollope has shown us that we can produce 10 books a year simply by using pen and paper.

We don’t need gadgets and we don’t need to spend the money to buy the gadgets or learn how to use them. Writers write.

Beats, Structure, and Formulae

Many of my fellow writers obsess over how to tell the story. They get all wrapped up in making sure they have all of the story beats that somebody told them they needed. Or they struggle to fit their story into three-act structure or five-act structure. Or they slavishly follow Lester Dent’s formula or Freitag’s Pyramid.

To my mind this is all crazy. It’s a waste of time. Most of it anyway. We all know conflict drives a story. The conflict can be external or internal. The conflict can be subtle or violent. We know we have to batter our protagonist until he or she reaches down deep to draw on that inner strength that enables him or her to triumph.

So do it. Just tell the doggone story.

Once again, Trollope shows us how to do it. In his Autobiography, Chapter 5, he wrote:

“[The Warden] has a merit of its own,—a merit by my own perception of which I was enabled to see wherein lay whatever strength I did possess. The characters of the bishop, of the archdeacon, of the archdeacon’s wife, and especially of the warden, are all well and clearly drawn. I had realised to myself a series of portraits, and had been able so to put them on the canvas that my readers should see that which I meant them to see. There is no gift which an author can have more useful to him than this.”

Characters. Well drawn and believable characters. That’s what it’s all about. They’re the secret to telling your story. Not beats or formulae. Ray Bradbury put it this way: create your characters, let them do their thing, and there’s your story.

We can spend all the time we want making sure X happens at the one fifth mark of the book and that Y happens at the one third mark of the book. That the mirror point happens precisely at the 50% mark. Etc. etc.

None of that makes for a good story unless one has good characters. As Trollope noted in the seventh chapter of his Autobiography:

“A novel should give a picture of common life enlivened by humour and sweetened by pathos. To make that picture worthy of attention, the canvas should be crowded with real portraits, not of individuals known to the world or to the author, but of created personages impregnated with traits of character which are known. To my thinking, the plot is but the vehicle for all this; and when you have the vehicle without the passengers, a story of mystery in which the agents never spring to life, you have but a wooden show.”

Sure there has to be a story, and Trollope admits this, but the story, the plot, is secondary to the characters. Plot exists in order to bring out the characters of the story. Characters that come across as real. Characters that make us laugh and tug at our heartstrings.

Therefore, create good characters, throw problems at them, and let them do their thing. Letting a story unfold organically will always lead to a better story then one forced into some kind of mold.

Reviews

Writers today obsess about reviews. If they get one bad review, their world seems to fall apart.

Let’s face facts. There are going to be people who don’t like what we write. There are going to be people who love what we write. And there are going to be people who think our writing is okay but no great shakes.

That’s the name of the game. And to top it off, the public is a very fickle creature. What’s hot today will be cold tomorrow.

Trollope had his share of adverse publisher and reader reactions. His first three books sold nothing. As in zero copies. At least that Trollope was aware of. In fact, he didn’t even get paid for the first two because apparently the publisher didn’t make any money. For his third book he received a £20 advance. And that was all the money he ever saw for it. Again, because the publisher didn’t make any money on it.

After those debacles, Trollope didn’t doubt that he should try to be a writer. He accepted the public’s opinion that they didn’t like those books and decided to try his hand at a play. When his friends told him to go back to novel writing he accepted that too. But he never doubted that he could be a writer. And that’s important. He had self-confidence. He just had to identify what the problem was that other people were signifying that he had.

And the problem for Trollope turned out to be subject matter. Apparently the English public wasn’t ready for Irish novels, or historical novels (at least how Trollope wrote them).

So Trollope turned to writing a contemporary novel set in a fictional English cathedral city. With The Warden, his fourth novel, Anthony Trollope finally made some money. In two years, he made a little over £20 from royalties. Or about $2700 in today’s money. Two years later, Barchester Towers was published, for which he received an advance of £100.

Trollope had finally achieved success. He hit on a subject the English reading public liked. His strength was in writing contemporary novels about the people in his own class. And he did it well. Mostly because his characters are so delightful.

The lesson for us is if we wish to make money writing, then we need to write what we know and write what resonates with the market.

Many writers eschew writing to market. They somehow think that sullies their reputation or the literary quality of what they write. But stop and think about this for a moment. Shakespeare wrote to market. Dickens wrote to market. Longfellow, about the only poet who ever made a living from poetry, wrote to market. There is nothing wrong with writing to market, unless one does a very bad job of it. And unfortunately there are writers who do.

Writing to market simply means you’re writing books or short stories that people want to read. Trollope’s Irish novels are very good, but no one in the 1840s wanted to read them. Trollope loved Ireland and could have written lots more Irish novels, but he wanted to make a living from writing and knew that if he persisted in writing Irish novels he would not be able to accomplish his goal. So he eventually turned to writing about the other thing he knew — his own class, and the reading public devoured his books.

Regardless of what he wrote, Trollope’s goal was to write the best book that he could. Shouldn’t that be our goal? And does the genre or subject matter truly matter that much?

If you like science fiction, and military science fiction is all the rage, then write the best military science fiction novel that you can. Trollope didn’t especially love English cathedral cities. But he knew the setting would enable him to write about the people he knew and from that produce good books. If we want to be successful, doesn’t Trollope’s attitude and approach make sense?

When we get bad reviews, we should look at what the people are really saying. Maybe they’re telling us something, and maybe we need to take heed of what they’re telling us. Trollope did, and went on to become a very successful author.

Anthony Trollope is a person who can show us how to triumph in adversity, set a dream for ourselves, and through perseverance and astute observation achieve that dream.

You can get Anthony Trollope’s Autobiography for free at Project Gutenberg. It’s a marvelous handbook for success.

As always comments are welcome, and until next time happy reading and writing!

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Anthony Trollope: The Writer’s Writer, Part 1

The Victorian writer Anthony Trollope is my writing mentor. He is the one who keeps my feet on the ground when it comes to writing and writing fads. For even though he lived in the 19th century (1815-1882), he was very much a 21st century indie author in sentiment.

In his own day, he was a popular novelist. Not on par with the likes of Dickens or Thackeray, nevertheless his name was more or less a household word. He wrote what would probably be called today slice-of-life mainstream fiction. Novels about the goings on of upper-class English society, for the most part. His books tend to be light, have plenty of humor, and a healthy dollop of social satire.

What can today’s indie authors learn from Anthony Trollope? Just about everything to guide and direct our attitude and to developing a methodology towards maintaining a writing career.

Let’s look at a few areas where I see my fellow authors struggling to come to grips with the writing life and where Trollope can teach us valuable lessons.

Quitting the Day Job

On Facebook group after Facebook group, I see my fellow writers in a frenzy to write and sell enough in order to quit the day job and write full-time. And in this frenzy they fall victim to all manner of hucksters selling (operative word here) services and advice. (NB: I don’t mean all the middlemen catering to writers are hucksters. Just remember, though, PT Barnum’s quip: a sucker is born every minute. We should strive to not be the suckers.)

Anthony Trollope, on the other hand, shows us we can write full time by writing part-time.

Anthony Trollope was a busy man. He worked full time at the post office (he invented the iconic British pillar mailbox). He was a social man. He went hunting at least twice a week, frequently played whist, visited with friends, and spent at least six weeks out of England on holiday. He was also married and had a family. He was a very busy man indeed! He did all of that and devoted three hours every day to writing, which he did in the morning before going to work.

And from those three hours each day of writing he produced a large body of work. In the course of a 35 year writing career he produced 47 novels, 44 short stories, 17 books of nonfiction, 20 articles, 2 plays, plus numerous letters.

Anthony Trollope proves one does not have to quit the day job to be a full-time writer. Because one can be a full-time writer writing only part-time.

Productivity

Go to any Facebook writer’s group and at some point a discussion will arise regarding writing speed and daily word production. One can find books on how to produce 5000 or 10,000 words a day. Of course those books are for sale, which gives us an idea as to how those authors earn their living. One of the latest fads on how to get more production is dictating one’s novel. And the fads keep on coming.

In the end, the only way to produce a high word count each day is to put your butt in your chair and write. Avoid distractions and write.

One hundred sixty years ago, Anthony Trollope showed us a very simple way to produce enough words in a year to be a prolific author. In his own day, Trollope was known as The Writing Machine.

He got up at 5:30 AM to began his three hour stint at writing. The first half-hour was spent reviewing the previous day’s work.

Then he put his watch on his desk and began writing for 2 1/2 hours. Trollope’s goal was to write one page, 250 words, every 15 minutes. At the end of his writing session, he’d have 10 pages or 2500 words.

If a writer today maintained Trollope’s pace every day for a year, he or she would have written 912,500 words. That’s very close to what Dean Wesley Smith calls “Pulp Speed” (which is writing over 1 million words per year). Those 912,500 words are enough for ten or eleven 80,000 word novels. Seriously folks, do we need to produce more than that in a year?

Trollope proves no writer needs to resort to Herculean efforts to produce a sizable body of fiction. Ten novels a year writing part-time is nothing to sneeze at.

Rewriting

Part of the key to high word counts is not rewriting and minimal editing.

Anthony Trollope did not rewrite. He also essentially did no editing. When he finished a manuscript he was for all intents and purposes finished with it. He sold it to the publisher as is. If the publisher did any editing after they got the manuscript, we don’t know. I doubt they did a lot, because mid-series in The Barchester Chronicles Trollope changed the name of one of his characters. He didn’t catch it and neither did the editor, if there was one.

As Dean Wesley Smith points out in his blog post on pulp speed writing, prolific authors don’t rewrite. They basically don’t have time to invest that much effort into any given manuscript. The prolific writer writes, it’s as simple as that. The goal isn’t perfection, the goal is production of decent and acceptable work.

I hear writers all the time talking about the number of edits they put a manuscript through, the number of beta reads, and how many professional editors they hire. Whereas, if they had gotten the manuscript right the first time they could’ve saved themselves a lot of time and money. And maybe even written another book.

Now I’m not advocating for sloppiness. I take pride in my work and while I don’t rewrite I do perform a modicum of editing. I make sure that I catch as many typos as I can and get rid of as many clunky sentences as I can. Which is basically what the pulp fiction writers did. And Anthony Trollope was setting the pattern long before the pulp fiction era.

Get in practice to write it right the first time. Academicians, who don’t make their living by writing, have spun the myth that the first draft is crap. There are scores of writers who made and make their living writing who say that advice is crap.

Write so your story is right when it goes on paper the first time. It saves time and money in the long run and time and money equals more books, which means more money — for you.

Next week we’ll continue our look at what Anthony Trollope can teach us writers in the 21st century.

Trollope is a person who can show us how to triumph in adversity, set a dream for ourselves, and through perseverance and astute observation achieve that dream.

You can get Anthony Trollope’s Autobiography for free at Project Gutenberg. It’s a marvelous handbook for success.

As always comments are welcome, and until next time happy reading and writing!

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Interview with Karen J Carlisle

 

I’ve never been a fan of time travel, yet I realized very recently that right here on planet earth we do time travel all the time. Today’s guest lives in my future and I live in her past. That’s because she sees the sun before I do and for other very scientific reasons.

I first met Karen on Twitter. I think it had to do with our mutual love of tea that we followed each other. Then we ran into each other on the now defunct Steampunk Empire. And we’ve been in each other’s future and past ever since.

So all the way from the future in Adelaide, Australia, we have with us Karen J Carlisle and she is going to talk to us about herself and her new book.

CW: Welcome, Karen! Glad you can visit with me here in the past. At least it’s the past for me. For you it’s the present.

Karen Carlisle: Thank you for giving me this opportunity to get in practice for being the Doctor’s next companion.

CW: My pleasure. So, tell us a little about yourself.

KC: I’m a science geek. I’m a Doctor Who fan. I’m an artist. I love to garden. I’ve played D&D since 1979 and have been a historical re-enactor since 1994 (though I don’t get much time to do it now).

When I left school, I wanted to be a writer, an archeologist, a photographer, a cinematographer, an artist, an astronaut and the Doctor’s next companion. Instead I did my B App Sc and became an optometrist.

After a few false starts and an unexpected, and forced, career change, I’m now pursuing my first love of writing. I work more hours than I ever did before. And I’m loving it. I get to create things. (Some people even like them.) Bonus!

CW: What did you read as a child?

KC: The earliest recollection is a book from primary school: ‘Stig of the Dump’ by Clive King. For some reason that one sticks in my head. My favourite childhood book was ‘The Dark is Rising’, by Susan Cooper. I’ve just finished re-reading it. Still love it.

I moved onto crime and mystery, delving into Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Sherlock Holmes books. A librarian, who wanted to expand my reading diet, introduced me to ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ and then I gorged on fantasy. Science fiction wasn’t far behind. I think I’ve read just about every Star Wars novel and Doctor Who novel that was published in the 70s and 80s. So, most of my literary diet is fantasy, science fiction or mystery-who-dunnits.

CW: Aside from writing, how do you spend your free time?

KC: I love to create.

I’ve been a costumer since 1980 (my first fan con was Conquest in Brisbane). I do photography, draw (pen and ink mostly. I have some of my work on Redbubble). I’m also a Doctor Who fan (since early 70s) and an old movie buff.

I spend a lot of time in the garden – though I’ve neglected it this year. I have a chemical-free (mostly) edible garden, and companion plant garden as well.

There are way too many things to distract me. I can’t list them all here.

CW: How many fiction books do you read a year?

KC: I’m a notoriously slow reader these days. I used to read a few books a month when I was at university.

These days (due to an extraocular muscle imbalance – oh ugh, technical jargon.), I can manage one a month. This year, I’ve struggled to complete three, as I was ill most of summer and am slammed with a writing deadline at the moment. Though I still buy books as if I was still reading at Uni-speed.

My ‘must must- read’ pile is nudging nineteen books. Guess what I’m doing when this book is published?

CW: What book do you think everyone should read and why?

KC: 1984 by George Orwell.

I studied this book in high school. It’s a cautionary tale for those of us who value personal or thought freedom, and a handbook to those who seek to control the masses. Read it.

These days, I see parallels all around me. Social media playing Big Brother – watching our every move, And we let it happen. Ordinary people participate, swept up in the group mentality, while those who shout the loudest vilify and control those on the fringe, or those with differing opinions.

Governments are defunding arts and declare words, such as ‘climate change’, should not be used in official documents and research. Both are known tactics when trying to curb independent thought and control a population.

It’s all there in 1984. It’s been used before, to great (and detrimental) effect… And we all know how that ended.

Or is that being too cynical?

CW: No, not at all! 1984 is one of the all time great books. It is definitely a must read, as you say, if we care at all about our actual liberty and our freedom to think. And again, as you point out, we do indeed know the real life exemplars of 1984 ended.

So tell us, now, about a book that has influenced you as a person.

KC: Okay, this will get a bit deep and meaningful now. If I dig down to my philosophical and emotional core, the New Testament of the Bible had the earliest and lasting effect on me.

I was brought up a Methodist but taught to question why, and not follow blindly. I believe if we treat others equally – as we expect to be treated – then the world will be a better place. No strings attached. No caveats. No buts. Everyone has a right to live and love. This hope keeps me going, gets me through moments of anxiety.

Bill and Ted (as in Excellent Adventure) got it right: Be excellent to each other.

CW: It is the Golden Rule in practice. You are absolutely right: if we only followed it, our world would be a much better place for everyone.

Okay. You are being exiled to a small island in the Pacific. You can take 3 books with you. What books would you take and why?

KC: Argh, the answer changes whenever I get asked this question; it depends on my mood and where my headspace is in at the time.

Right now? In no particular order:

  • Lord of the Rings (the trilogy in one book — even if that is cheating). I find the story full of hope, of undying friendships, loyalty and love, and good triumphing over evil. All these things seem to be of lower priority these days, but it is something most people crave. I need a friend who will keep looking for me and rescue me, or at least do regular book drops. (Or at least will help me hide the bodies… Did I say that out loud?) Plus I have a thing for Aragorn.
  • Blue Moon Rising by Simon R Green. This is my ‘comfort book’. I read it first in the 80s. It’s a feel-good, fun adventure, with a spirited female character and an unlikely hero. Its voice is easy to read. It always makes me feel better.
  • A never-ending notebook (and pencils). If I couldn’t write while I’m there, I’d go absolutely barmy! (NB: I take it an unending dark chocolate supply is a given, right?)

CW: We’ll make an exception on the dark chocolate, just for you. Now tell us, please, about a book that’s influenced you as a writer.

KC: I can’t confine myself to one. I’d say it’s a combination of writers – Agatha Christie (many of my stories end up with as mysteries), Conan-Doyle (Sherlock Holmes – for mysteries and that slightly off-kilter Victorian feel), and Gail Carriger (for her voice, which she calls comedy of etiquette. I wish I’d come up with that phrase!)

CW: Of all your books, which one is your favorite and why?

KC: Of the books I’ve written? That would be ‘Doctor Jack’.

I’ve always had a fascination with Jack the Ripper – not the creature himself, but the history and mythology that has been woven around it. Who was he? Will we ever know? Why did the chief of police really scrub away the graffiti on the wall – was it political, was it a cover up? Why didn’t they use some of the latest forensic methods, such as fingerprints (the new technique had been used in France)? Was there a conspiracy? Why weren’t some of the newspaper eye witness accounts used in the coroner’s court? There have been so many theories over the years, yet we are no closer. It is the ultimate true crime who-dunnit. It was a story rife for speculation.

I wrote ‘Doctor Jack’ as an experiment in writing from the villain’s point of view. Every bad guy thinks he’s the hero of their own story. They have their own loves and hates, their own dreams and goals. I wanted to show that , and perhaps have the reader understand his thinking, without necessarily condoning it. I mean, the murders were horrid.

CW: If I hadn’t read any of your books, which one should I start with and why?

KC: Start with Doctor Jack & Other Tales (paperback).

This is the first paperback in the first series I’ve written. You can read each story separately; they are complete in themselves, but there is a background story arc threaded through them, which concludes in The Illusioneer (I’m working on now).

If you read the ebooks, start with the novella, Doctor Jack – my retelling of the Jack the Ripper story. Doctor Jack was my favourite story to write. You can go back and catch up on the first three short stories, which fill in the background. However, Doctor Jack does have a spoiler for the second short story, An Eye for Detail.

CW: Where we can find your books?

KC: You can find shopping details and links on my webpage: www.karenjcarlisle.com/shop

They are available via various online bookstores in Australia and internationally, including:

Amazon, Smashwords, iBooks, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Booktopia, Fishpond, Angus & Robertson/Bookworld.

You can also buy the paperback direct from me (if you live in Australia).

CW:  Would you give us contact information, such as a url to your website, Amazon page, Facebook page, or wherever else we can find you?

KC: Sure!

Web: www.karenjcarlisle.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kjcarlisle

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KarenJCarlisle/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/KarenJCarlisle

CW: Thank you so much for visiting with me in the past. I hope things are just fine in your present, which is my future. Goodness. Thanks again, Karen, for visiting. All the best to you.

KC: Thank you for having me on your blog!

CW: And if you head on over to www.karenjcarlisle.com and answer today’s question, Karen will put your name into the hat for a chance to win an ebook of one of Viola Stewart’s adventures. That is a very good deal!

 

 

Karen J Carlisle is an imagineer and writer of steampunk, Victorian mysteries and fantasy. She was short-listed in Australian Literature Review’s 2013 Murder/Mystery Short Story Competition and published her first novella, Doctor Jack & Other Tales, in 2015. Her short story, ‘Hunted’, was featured in the Adelaide Fringe exhibition, ‘A Trail of Tales’.

Karen lives in Adelaide with her family and the ghost of her ancient Devon Rex cat.

She’s always loved dark chocolate and rarely refuses a cup of tea.

The Illusioneer & Other Tales

Viola Stewart returns for a third set of adventures.

Viola needs a holiday. But, even at the beach, or while partying on the grand tour of Europe… there are things afoot.

Seeing is believing… or is it?

The Illusioneer & Other Tales: The Adventures of Viola Stewart Journal #3 is currently scheduled for release in late October/early November.

For more information, sign up for Karen’s newsletter: http://karenjcarlisle.com/sign-up-email-list/

 

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Buying Online

As far as I’m concerned, the brick-and-mortar store is a dinosaur waiting to become extinct. I have been a mail order shopper since I was a kid. There’s just something magical about getting packages in the mail. And with the advent of the internet, my mail order shopping — now called online shopping — has dramatically increased.

I regularly buy the following online: books, music, clothes, shoes, paper, pencils, pens, ink, tea, special food items, cat food, cat litter, soap, razor blades, vitamins, toothbrushes, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten something.

My wife buys most of her art supplies online, as well as toys for her grandkids.

Shopping online is my kind of heaven and I can’t wait for the day when I can do all of my grocery shopping online.

Being a reader — and a book buyer — my decision to buy online is of importance to brick-and-mortar bookstores and traditional publishers, both the corporate giants and the small press. Why? Because 63% of traditionally published adult fiction was bought online in the US in 2016. And the trend isn’t reversing. (Data from authorearnings.com)

That means trouble for physical bookstores which is where traditional publishing has for over a century done business. It also spells trouble for traditional publishing companies because their traditional sales outlets are disappearing.

Many of you are aware of the Amazon-Hachette fracas. As physical bookstores disappear and more and more print books are sold online, the online stores — we’re really talking Amazon here — are going to have more and more clout. And while Hachette got more or less its way this time, I doubt Amazon will be so nice in the future.

But that’s not all, traditional publishing is tied to the physical book. Yet last year in the US, 70% of fiction sales were digital. That’s ebooks and audiobooks. And when we add in that 42% of all adult fiction was non-traditionally published in 2016, the way the book business has done business is fast becoming a thing of the past. (Data from authorearnings.com)

Non-traditional publishing consists of indie author/publishers and Amazon. Yes, Amazon. The mega-giant is setting itself up as a publisher. To date, Amazon has 17 imprints. They regularly recruit authors to publish through them and offer those authors, generally speaking, contracts which are far less draconian than those of traditional publishers. It truly is time to beware the beast.

Why do I buy online? Because it’s easy, and I like getting packages in the mail. I have, quite literally, the entire world from which to choose whatever I want to buy. Can’t quite say that when I go to the local shopping mall. Plus I have to drive there.

I am, though, concerned about my online shopping. Mainly because it feeds the mega-giant Amazon. The Zon makes online shopping so easy, it’s difficult not to buy from them. It takes a conscious effort to not buy from the Zon. And I have to admit, I’m rather lazy about exerting that effort.

Recently I did buy a pair of jeans from The Duluth Trading Company. Excellent service and product, by the way. And I bought a pair from Lands’ End. Again, excellent service and the product was very good. Zappos is another fine online store.

I buy pens and ink from small online retailers such as Jet Pens. chewy.com is an excellent online source of pet food and supplies.

Nevertheless, the Zon is the 800 pound gorilla on the block and it takes much diligence to avoid the beast. And quite honestly, there are times when I’m just too lazy.

For indie authors, I think we already know where the future lies. It lies in ebooks and audiobooks. Print books aren’t necessarily a thing of the past, but as we baby boomers die off and generations take over who grew up in a digital world — the paper book will become a specialty item. Akin to handmade paper, or handmade wooden kitchen utensils, or custom made shirts.

The only real question facing indie authors is how much clout are we going to give Amazon? Are we going to invest our futures to the Zon? Or are we going to support competing enterprises, such as Apple, Kobo, or Scribd, or Findaway Voices (an ACX alternative, available through Draft2Digital).

Because if we indies tie ourselves to Amazon’s shirttail, then we have to go where they go — and what happens when they stick it to us, as the traditional publishers did so very many, many decades ago? Then where will we go?

A very difficult decision. Very difficult.

As an online buyer, I need to ensure that I don’t help create a monopoly that will in the end bite me. I must diversify my purchases. So fellow online buyers, lets not feed the Zon. Let’s put it on a diet.

As indie authors, let’s seriously consider a publishing world where the only distributor is Amazon. I know that isn’t a nightmare I’m willing to have.

Comments are always welcome! And, until next time, happy reading!

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Horror, Weird Fiction, or Dark Fantasy?

I will be launching a new series, probably in the new year. I have the first three books written and am in the editorial process.

Ever since I conceived of the series, I’ve been scratching my head as to what to label it. My inspiration came from The X-Files, Stranger Things, Charles Stross’s The Laundry Files series, and HP Lovecraft (both his Cthulhu Mythos and non-Mythos stories). The series draws on the quasi-scientific, supernatural, and paranormal. There be monsters here! As well as psychological elements of fear and terror.

So what exactly am I writing? Is it horror fiction? Or weird fiction? Or dark fantasy? Maybe it’s dark speculative fiction. Or perhaps it’s simply paranormal fiction.

For the series title I chose the word “paranormal”. Pierce Mostyn Paranormal Investigations. Mostly because “paranormal” anything is hot right now. But as noted above, like The X-Files, Pierce Mostyn investigates the quasi-scientific, the pseudo-scientific, as well as the supernatural and paranormal. Anything that is weird and might be a threat to the good people of the United States of America. See my dilemma?

My old Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition defines horror as “the strong feeling caused by something frightful or shocking; shuddering fear and disgust; terror and repugnance.” Therefore, a horror story is one that would induce fear, terror, disgust, repugnance, or shock.

Weird, on the other hand, is “suggestive of ghosts, evil spirits, or other supernatural things; unearthly, mysterious, eerie, etc.” The dictionary goes on to say “weird applies to that which is supernaturally mysterious or fantastically strange.” Weird fiction, then, would be fiction that induces a more general feeling of fear or uneasiness. A story that leaves one with an unidentifiable feeling of dread. Although one reviewer on Amazon was of the opinion that weird fiction puts the protagonist into a situation where no choice he or she can make is a good choice. If that is the case, then to my mind weird fiction sidles very close to horror.

Dark means “hidden; secret; not easily understood; obscure; evil; sinister.” So dark fantasy would be fantasy that explores the hidden, secret, evil, or the sinister. And could easily leave the reader with a feeling of dread. Identifiable or not.

The Pierce Mostyn series might induce fear in some, and certainly deals with those things that are hidden, secret, evil, or sinister. The series also explores that which is supernaturally mysterious or fantastically strange.

I suppose it all comes down to what’s my primary intent with the stories. My guess is I’m probably going more for the weird impact than anything else. But then again, each story might be different. Certainly that was the case with The X-Files, or Night Gallery before that, and The Twilight Zone before that.

Any suggestions will be very much appreciated. Please leave them in the comments.

My Interview

On a separate note, my interview with fellow author Andy Graham went live on Thursday, September 7. You can find it at One Book Interviews. The interview was fun and challenging. Trying to find just one book for each of Andy’s questions. Just one. Difficult, a bit of soul searching, and yet fun, because I got to revisit lots of great books in my mind. And put a few on the reread list!

Please, do check out the interview. And while you’re there, take a look around Andy’s site.

Comments are always welcome, and, until next time, happy reading!

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Slow

If you look at just about any book ad or Amazon genre page, the words that most often jump out at you are “fast paced” and “thriller”. Or you might find phrases like, “the pages turn themselves”. Or subtitles packed with the words, “gripping”, “shocking”, “thrilling”.

As a reader, it seems to me, writers are hellbent on jacking up my blood pressure and giving me cardiac arrest. The scribblers are doing their best to push frenetically paced everything down my throat. Can’t wait to get my copy of the new gripping, thrill-packed, and shocking edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook, where the recipes make themselves.

I blame the furious pace of contemporary fiction and the taste for such stuff on generations that were raised watching Sesame Street. If any kid’s show was designed to produce and then cater to hyperactivity it is Sesame Street. For those of us raised on Captain Kangaroo, Sesame Street’s fevered pace is apoplectic.

Of course, there are those who disagree and they’re free to do so. As with anything, there is probably more than one cause. In addition to Sesame Street one could blame texting, with its abbreviations and clipped text.

Contemporary TV shows, playing to the Sesame Street generations, jump from scene to scene, throwing a tumult of disconnected storylines at the viewer that I often find it difficult to follow.

I know, I know, we baby boomers are dying off. Nobody gives a flying fig about what we think. But quite honestly, what’s the rush? Why do the pages have to turn themselves? Can’t I pause a moment and smell the fictional rose? Can’t we follow Simon and Garfunkel’s advice? “Slow down, you move too fast. Gotta make the morning last.” Seriously, night will come all too soon. Why rush it?

For me, a story is to savor. As with making friends, it takes time to get to know the characters and to decide if I want them for friends. So much of today’s writing is plot-driven tripe lacking in what makes life worth living: people, and beautiful things and experiences.

Just imagine if one of today’s thrilling writers were to write “Hills Like White Elephants”? The main characters would probably chug down their beers, and charge onto the train, without ever having a word of conversation. Yep, a fantastic story that.

I don’t want to bump and grind my way through a story. I want to savor it, like I do a cup of tea, or a plate of spaghetti with my favorite sauce, or a crumpet dripping with butter and orange marmalade.

For me, a slower paced story that is packed with suspense, and sprinkled with action, where I can grow to love the characters, and want to read more about them — that’s what I want to read.

I don’t want to read about cardboard people racing hell for leather through situation after situation that in the end I could not care less about.

Unfortunately, for me, what that means, practically speaking, is that entire genres and sub-genres are leaving my reading list. I even find myself abandoning contemporary fiction altogether, in favor of older books because the pacing is often slower, with a focus on building suspense and giving me a main character I care about.

Yes, I’m willing to admit I’m the odd man out. That I’m in the minority. Today’s majority wants herky-jerky story presentation and frantic action. But as P. F. Ford notes in his ads, if you want character and humor rather than blood and gore, then his books are for you.

Nice to know I am not alone.

Comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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The Mars-Venus Thing, Part 2

                             Mars vs Venus

Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, so it’s said. Mark Gungor’s “Tale of Two Brains” humorously describes this difference.

Last week, I began taking a look at these differences and how they affect fiction writers. I concluded with the idea that men who read fiction are the collateral damage of the contemporary fiction scene.

This week, I want to look deeper into the notion men don’t read fiction. Before I do, I’d like you to read two articles. They are excellent and describe the problem eloquently. The first is by Jason Pinter and the second is by Porter Anderson.

Okay, now that you’ve gotten the background material, let’s look at what those two men have to say about men and fiction and what the ramifications are for indies.

Big corporate publishers believe the maxim “Men Don’t Read”. Consequently they don’t publish for men or market towards men. As Pinter points out, when there aren’t many books on the market for men to read, they’re going to do something else with their time.

While Pinter excoriates Big Publishing concerning men and reading in general, Anderson focuses on fiction. Where the bias is even greater. In fact, Anderson’s statements regarding his own and men’s attitudes in general are supported by Kate Summers in her study. (Here’s a pdf version where the tables are visible.)

As Mark Gungor would say, men have a drawer labelled “fiction”. As writers, I think we need to fill it.

Since men prefer men authors (prefer is the operative word here), it seems only logical men should write for men; at least some of the time. But do they?

Hugh Howey’s protagonist in Wool is female.

Felix Savage’s protagonist in the first three books of his Sol System Renegades series is female, and a lesbian to boot.

Michael Anderle’s protagonist is female.

TS Paul’s protagonists are female.

The list can go on and on. If men readers say they prefer men writers and men main characters (as Summers notes in her article), why aren’t we men indie writers writing for them? That is the question we need to be asking ourselves.

Mark Dawson’s survey of his mailing list (some 60,000 persons at present), revealed that readers of his John Milton series are evenly split amongst men and women. Proving Summers’s survey to be spot on: while men favor men, women are much more eclectic in their reading preferences. As Mark Gungor notes: men are not as flexible as women; it has to do with how our brains work. And we all know men are lousy at multi-tasking.

Today’s cozy mystery field is, like romance, dominated by women. Women writers and women protagonists, with the requisite love story.

However, once upon a time men wrote cozies and with men as the protagonists. A few examples:

  • David Crossman with his Winston Crisp series.
  • William L DeAndrea’s Matt Cobb series.
  • Edmund Crispin and his Gervase Fen mysteries.

And there are others. Today, however, men have abandoned the field to women. Or perhaps the big corporate giants pushed the men out and indies followed suit.

Mark Coker’s Smashwords is heavily biased towards romance. From his own survey, half of his catalog consists of romance novels and 73% of the top 200 bestsellers on Smashwords are romance. It is well-known that Coker is cozy with romance writer organizations. Why? Perhaps he, too, believes men don’t read fiction. And wants to go where he thinks the money is.

It’s my desire to see us indies get out from under the publishing bias of the corporate giants and start catering to both sexes. After all, if half your potential market is men and the other half women, why not write for both? I mean, seriously, who wants just half a pie?

One way to do that is to have a man and woman as a dual protagonist. Men will go for the combo and so will women. Certainly a win-win to my thinking.

For cozy mysteries, the female amateur sleuth can hook up with a guy in the first book. And then in subsequent books, the two solve the crimes together. That would satisfy the romance part and would provide a strong draw for men readers.

The problem this attitude of everything for females in the fiction world causes for young men and boys is that they are turned off to reading. “It’s for girls.” “It’s for sissies.” And the drawer marked “Reading” remains closed. And perhaps never opens.

As Anderson points out in his article, ebooks just might be the best thing that could happen to men. We can read anonymously. Which is really what most of us men want. Yet, indie authors, who primarily publish ebooks, seem to be mainly writing for women. ‘Tis a pity.

Or perhaps indie men authors genuinely think men want to read about kick-ass hot women main characters. There might be some truth to that.

The pulp market of the 20s, 30s, and 40s certainly understood the power of a scantily-clad heroine being rescued by the hero. However, today’s writers seem to forget the hero. Adolescent boys and young men are into wish fulfillment. As Kate Summers notes, almost half of the men surveyed need to identify with the main character. If there is only the heroine, where is the wish fulfillment? If there isn’t any, the guys go elsewhere. Once again, reading is for the female of the species.

Independent authors are independent. We are the ones to buck the corporate giants and their preconceived notions. Unfortunately, the “get rich quick” crowd has flooded the indie field and lost somewhere in the quagmire is the male reader. Because we all know men don’t read fiction. BULL.

I have a friend who says he prefers non-fiction. Then he’ll go on and list novel after novel he’s read and asks if I’ve read it. He prefers non-fiction. Yeah, right.

The male reading public awaits. From grade school readers to us old guys. Give us books men can relate to.

One more example. Of the nine cozy mysteries I’ve recently read, all of the protagonists were women and three of the four writers were women. I enjoyed most of the books. They were light entertainment. Disposable reading.

I recently read a short story with a male protagonist, “01134” by Crispian Thurlborn. The story was profound. It was profound because mano a mano I saw something of myself in the main character and Thurlborn’s powerful writing made the experience alive. The story was “entertainment” in a philosophical, thought-provoking, and emotional manner. Definitely not disposable reading.

Indie writers, please don’t forget us men who love to read fiction. And there are a lot more of us than you think.

Comments are always welcome. Until next time, happy reading!

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The Mars-Venus Thing, Part 1

                            Mars vs Venus

 

Quite honestly, I don’t know if women are from Venus and men, Mars. What I do know is that men and women look at the world differently. We can argue why this is until and even after the car is in the garage. The fact remains, the sexes see life from different perspectives. And in the end, that’s all that matters.

As a reader, as a male reader, I find I tend to gravitate towards certain types of books. And I am not just referring to genres here. I’m talking about characteristics. Such things as pacing, the amount of action, humor, violence, and sex.

A few months ago I referenced an article by Kate Summers, “Adult Reading Habits And Preferences In Relation To Gender Differences”. The article is informative and I think for the most part right on.

So I thought I’d revisit Ms Summer’s article and answer the questions she gave her survey participants. I dropped one of her questions and replaced it with one of my own. Here are the results (my answers are italicized):

1. How many books do you read in a year?

About two dozen or more.

2. Do you generally prefer fiction or nonfiction?

Fiction.

3. What nonfiction topics interest you?

Airships, history, philosophy, cooking, ships.

4. Do you have any favorite genres you like to read?

Mysteries, science fiction, adventure, sea stories.

5. Do you read series books or do you prefer standalone books?

Series.

6. What are a few of your favorite books?

An Artist Of The Floating World, The Remains Of The Day, Seneca’s Letters, Earth Abides, Day Of The Triffids, On The Beach, Wingman.

7. Do you have any favorite magazines?

No.

8. Who are a few of your favorite authors?

Kazuo Ishiguro, Daniel Pinkwater, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, H. Rider Haggard.

9. Do you typically prefer male authors or female authors?

Male authors.

10. Do you typically read books that feature male protagonists or female protagonists?

Male.

11. Were you encouraged to read when growing up?

Yes.

12. How do you choose books to read?

Subject, word of mouth, reviews.

13. Do you belong to a bookclub?

No.

14. Do you discuss books with your friends?

Not usually.

15. Are you an active member of any book related social networking sites?

No.

16. Do you own an ereader?

Yes.

17. In what format do you prefer to read, print or digital?

Doesn’t matter.

18. What kind of reading do you do online?

Nonfiction and research.

19. Do you become interested in reading a particular book if it is adapted into a movie or a TV series?

Not especially.

What I discovered is that my answers more or less fit in with those of fiction reading men. Good to know I’m normal, at least as far as reading is concerned.

In Kate Summers’s survey, women overwhelmingly preferred fiction to nonfiction. This may account for the perception amongst males that fiction reading is for “sissies”. And most males would rather die than be accused of being a sissy. Which may also account for men publicly declaring a preference for nonfiction.

I grew up in a family where reading was encouraged and my father read fiction. Consequently, fiction has always been part of my life and was nothing I was ashamed of. And I’m very glad for that.

Summers’s survey revealed women tend to be eclectic readers, having no preference overall for male or female protagonists or authors. On the other hand, a strong majority of men prefer male authors and male protagonists. This preference may be due to males more than females needing to identify with the characters. This was clearly seen in a survey of 11th grade boys and girls, where 43% of the boys compared to 35% of the girls cited needed to identify with the characters in a book.

Reading habits of men and women are important to writers — if the writer desires to write to a target audience.

Males tend to prefer action and humor. I discovered I’m a bit of an oddball in this regard as I don’t care for unrelenting and fast-paced action. I like action, but keep it to a few action scenes. I prefer plenty of non-action or little action and a whole lot of character development. Slowburn fiction is more my speed.

Females, on the other hand, tend to like romance and realistic fiction dealing with relationships.

As a writer, I find these preferences very interesting. It seems men tend to prefer plot-driven stories, with women preferring character-driven stories. Maybe that’s why men, for example, prefer thrillers (lots of action), whereas women prefer mysteries (especially cozies) where relationships and the characters’s personalities play a much larger role.

Every individual is, of course, unique. But generally speaking, it seems men and women form two different reader groups. What I see going on today amongst writers, both indie and traditionally published, is a catering to women readers at the expense of men. And this is taking place among both men and women writers.

The key to success, so we writers are told, no matter the genre or target audience (such as YA), is to have a kick-ass heroine. I think the underlying reason for this is the notion that in general men don’t read fiction. Which is, of course, not true. Men do read fiction. But men tend not to be social about their reading habits and therefore their reading choices generally don’t show up in surveys.

But we’ll save this part for next week, where we will examine the bias against men.

And if you are a man reading this post, please consider answering the questionnaire above that I took and put your answers in the comments.

Until next next time, happy reading!

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The Author Helper & ReaderLinks

One of the first things you’ll notice as an indie author is that there are hundreds of people and businesses all vying with each other for your money. Ostensibly they will tell you how to tap into the gold mine that is indie publishing.

Some are legit and others are simply in it for the money, that is to take your money and put it in their pockets. Some are authors who have made it big and want to share the secrets of their success. A portion of those will only sell the info to you. Others will give you free info, as well as sell more in-depth information.

It’s a jungle out there and it’s only getting worse.

Today, I want to introduce you to two guys who are successful authors (that means they make money) AND are interested in sharing their knowledge.

The Author Helper

John Logsdon and Ben Zackheim are two guys who write fiction and also want to share what they know with the indie community.

I ran across their website, The Author Helper, when I took Mark Dawson’s Facebook Ads for Authors course last year. The website has good information. You should check it out at the above link.

I also joined The Author Helper Facebook group, which I encourage you to join because it is a great community with a number of successful indie authors as members. There’s nothing like being with successful people to show you that, yes, you too can be successful.

ReaderLinks

For the past several months I’ve been part of a beta group testing the replacement for the Author Helper plugin. The plugin was great, but had limitations due to the vagaries of WordPress. John and Ben decided the way to go was to build a website subscription service that offered all the advantages of the plugin plus so much more.

I count myself very fortunate to be part of the beta testing team and can tell you that this is one fabulous tool for authors to manage the business side of our little empires.

You need a Sales Tracker? ReaderLinks has it.

Do you want universal book links? ReaderLinks has it.

Need Tweet management and automation? ReaderLinks has it.

Want one place to display all of your books? ReaderLinks has it.

Street team management? ReaderLinks has it.

And that’s not all! There is much, much more. Head on over to the ReaderLinks website. Watch the video, and then subscribe. It’s launching soon. Get in on the ground floor. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

ReaderLinks and The Author Helper are valuable aids to help us promote our books and put money in our pockets.

Comments are always welcome, and until next time — happy reading!

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Book Review: A Quiet Life in the Country

Superb indie writers abound. Many readers complain about the indie revolution and all the crappy books out there. Granted, there are a lot of crappy books being published. But they aren’t all indie. A very sizable portion of them come from the corporate giants on their never-ending quest for the next blockbuster.

Some of the best books I’ve read this year and last year were written by indie authors. And some of the worst books I’ve read last year and this year were published by the big corporations. In this day and age, who publishes a book is no guarantee of the book’s quality.

Last week, I reviewed indie author Agatha Frost, who writes contemporary cozy mysteries. This week, I want to take a look at cozy author T. E. Kinsey, who started out going indie and then accepted a publishing deal from Thomas & Mercer, an Amazon imprint.

When I picked up a copy of A Quiet Life in the Country it was #1 on Amazon’s list of Bestselling Cozy Mysteries. That was on 2 July 17. As of yesterday (7 August), the book was #15. A long ride being in the top 20.

So what makes Kinsey’s 1908 aristocratic sleuth, Lady Hardcastle, so popular? To me the answer is simple: appealing characters, humor, and good storytelling.

The same combo that works for Agatha Frost, works for Mr Kinsey. In fact, it’s the same combo that pretty much works for every author or book I like.

The only downside to A Quiet Life In The Country is that the pacing tips towards the glacial. What saved the book for me was the humor. The jokes and puns and banter made the slow spots bearable.

The storyline is the same as in all mysteries. Lady Hardcastle and her servant, who is also her friend, have moved to the country after a life of adventure. And then they stumble across the body and then another.

Through a ruse they are allowed to work with the police detective. Eventually Lady Hardcastle and the detective solve the murders.

All pretty standard. Which is why character and humor are so important, as well as good storytelling — which turns the already familiar plot into something interesting.

Highly recommended! Get yourself a copy of A Quiet Life In The Country. You won’t be sorry.

Comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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